5 Gratitude Journals To Kick-Start Your Practice + How Experts Want You To Use Them
In This Article
While other wellness practices can feel impossible to get the hang of (looking at you, meditation), gratitude journaling is a simple, straightforward method that has a pronounced impact on mood and mental health. Here are the perks of the practice, tips on how to stick with it, sample prompts and templates, and beautiful journals that'll get you excited to start writing.
What is a gratitude journal?
A gratitude journal is a tool you use to record the things that you're grateful for; it's as simple as that.
The idea is that by keeping a regular log of the people, places, and things that you are grateful to have in your life, you train your brain to look out for these positives instead of dwelling on the negative.
"The way gratitude journaling works has been described as an 'upward spiral,'" licensed clinical psychologist Elena Welsh, Ph.D., tells mbg. "The more you make the link between these positive moments being something to be thankful or grateful for, the more you will experience the related positive thoughts and thereby increase and intensify your emotional experience of being grateful."
For the purpose of this article, we'll focus on the act of writing about gratitude in a journal, though it's important to note that you can express your gratitude in other ways too, such as thinking about it, speaking it aloud, or scribbling it down on a computer or Post-it notes.
Research shows that in doing so, you can relieve stress, improve mood, strengthen social ties, gain confidence, and more.
Benefits of gratitude.
There are many benefits of regularly expressing gratitude (check out a comprehensive list here), but these are some of the things that experts say you can expect with a gratitude journaling practice in particular:
It gives you perspective.
"Gratitude is really about connecting to the abundance, the blessings, the joy that is here in this present moment," Kimberly Snyder, New York Times bestselling author and founder of Solluna, explains.
While it's easy to get swept up in the minutiae of our day-to-day routines, gratitude journaling gives us the opportunity to zoom out. "Writing out your feelings around the powerful energy of gratitude can help you rise up and beyond the fluctuations and ups and downs of daily life. And so in this way, gratitude journaling can help you to really put your life into perspective," Snyder adds.
It can take the focus off stress and sadness.
Humans have a negativity bias; we tend to focus on things that aren't going our way to protect ourselves from pain. Gratitude journaling is a way to actively counteract this bias and promote positive thinking. Gratitude journals can help distract from unpleasant thoughts and thinking traps when ruminating in the past or worrying about the future, says clinical psychologist Ayanna Abrams, Psy.D.
In turn, she adds, gratitude journals can help us home in on positive experiences in the future. "They can help you to not gloss over 'the little things' i.e., the things our brain might tend to overlook because we're wired to seek out threats and attempt to protect ourselves from them."
It promotes mindfulness.
Putting a pen to paper can be a mindful and meditative act in itself. "When you write down what you're grateful for... it helps you to really see what is here now," says Snyder. "Sometimes we need that solidity of seeing something physically written down in order to really connect to it and integrate it into our lives."
It can bring you closer to others.
Once you get into the habit of thinking about what you're grateful for, Welsh notes that you may find yourself more openly expressing your gratitude for the people in your life. And sharing your gratitude with others can help strengthen your relationships in turn.
It may benefit physical health, too.
Too much stress and anxiousness can negatively affect overall health, so any practice you do to calm these emotions will benefit your well-being. For example, one 2015 study in the journal Spirituality in Clinical Practice found that gratitude can help support both heart health and the inflammatory response, as well as better sleep quality.
"Research shows that this practice can improve your confidence, help you with better problem solving as you move through the day, help you get better sleep, and even change your hormonal activity when you can frame your experiences with more balance and less catastrophe," adds Abrams.
Tips for getting started.
While there is no one "right" way to keep a gratitude journal, these are the tips that our experts say can be helpful for starting a new practice or refreshing your current one:
Try to journal every day.
Snyder recommends trying to carve out time to write every day—even if it's just for two minutes. "It is the small daily steps that add up to big benefits and help establish a beneficial habit for the long term," she says. If you can't commit to writing daily, don't stress; Abrams adds that journaling a few times a week can also be effective.
Pair it with another routine.
One way to get in the habit of journaling is to pair it with another activity you do daily, whether it's drinking your morning coffee or reading before bed. When you're first getting started, Abrams recommends gratitude journaling at a few different times of day to see which one feels most doable for your schedule.
Keep the questions and prompts broad.
While some people might enjoy writing on the same question every day (such as, what am I grateful for over the last 24 hours?), others might like mixing things up with different prompts and questions. When choosing your writing topics, Snyder recommends keeping them broad enough so you don't get pigeonholed into writing the same response over and over. To get a feel for a great prompt, look through the examples below!
Assign a number.
When getting started, Abrams notes that it can be helpful to write down a certain number of things daily (i.e., three things that made you smile last week or three people who have supported you recently). Giving yourself this goal can help lend consistency to your practice and get those mental wheels turning.
Be true to yourself.
Of course, there are bound to be days where gratitude is harder to come by. When you are feeling down, Abrams notes that it won't be helpful to write something positive just for the sake of writing it. She notes that her clients who have benefited the most from their gratitude journals have used them as tools for honest self-assessment, day after day.
"A gratitude practice can be really honest and even name how you wish you'd feel," she explains. "For example, 'I wish I could feel great about this event tonight and I hope I feel better by 5 p.m., but right now I'm a little nervous about my speech'... It's OK to not feel grateful as your only feeling. You can be truthful, tell the whole story, and offer yourself an optimistic outcome."
Don't just focus on the easy stuff.
Along those lines, brain plasticity researcher Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D., previously told mbg that you don't need to gloss over stressful or challenging events in your gratitude journal. Instead, you can use it as a tool to explore the role that setbacks may play in setting you up for success down the line.
"What is fear teaching me about what I value? What is worry telling me about my life and what is going right and what is going wrong and what my dream is? If I approach those emotions as protective and informative, I have a very different way of dealing with them," Suzuki explained.
Make it messy.
Finally, your journal isn't a highlight reel; it's a place where you can be honest with yourself. Experts agree you can let go of the need to write in the margins or spell everything correctly. This is only for you to see, after all.
mbg's pick for the best gratitude journals of 2022:
While you certainly don't need a new journal to get started with this practice, sometimes having one that you're excited to write in can be a great motivator. These five offer a beautiful space for reflection:
Best overall: Papier Little Daily Thanks
- Provides space for guided and free-form writing
- Gives gratitude prompts for morning and evening
- Some pages might not be applicable to everyone
This groovy journal from Papier offers a nice mix of prompts and questions and blank paper where you can reflect on your own. It also has space where you can quickly jot down three things you're grateful for each morning and evening, making it a nice starter journal for anyone looking to make gratitude more of a habit.
Best for those low on time: Alleyoop Grateful Duo
- Not dated so you can use it at any time
- Quick and easy to fill in
- Prompts repeat themselves
This sleek set from beauty brand Alleyoop encourages you to write down three things you're grateful for on any given day. Each entry can take up no more than a line, and the notebook isn't dated. This adds up to a low-stress, commitment-free journal that can be picked up whenever; perfect for those who don't want to spend too much time writing.
Best blank: Moleskine Classic Notebook
- Durable and well made
- Lined paper allows you to write your own prompts and questions
- Not for those looking for a guided notebook
- Some inks may bleed through the paper
For those who are looking to choose their own gratitude adventure and switch up the questions and prompts they explore, a blank journal will be the way to go. The Moleskine notebook is beloved by writers around the world for its classic design and durable construction (though some inks might bleed through its pages, so do a test write first). Another bonus of going with a blank notebook: You can also use it for to-do's, creative writing, letter writing, etc.
Best for ritual: Petite Petitions Mini Manifestation Journal
- Made to pair seamlessly with your writing ritual
- Blank pages allow for writing and drawing
- Small pages will fill up fast
- Not for those looking for a guided notebook
This small (4.5 by 3.5 inches) journal features a unique circle cutout where you can place a crystal, LED tealight, or photo to inspire your writing ritual. Made with manifestation in mind, its blank pages allow you to write or draw the things you're grateful for or want to call into your life.
Best for self-reflection: Wilde House Paper Rituals & Wellness Journal
- Beautiful design
- Space to track your mood and goals
- Prompts repeat themselves
Finally, this guided journal from sustainable paper goods company Wilde House Paper encourages you to track your wellness goals and intentions throughout the year. The organized daily notebook also features room to free-write and a slot to quickly jot down your mood on any given day. It would be a nice option for those who can commit to a consistent gratitude practice and want to be able to easily reflect on how their perspective changes with time.
If the standard directive to "write down what you're grateful for" feels lackluster, these expert-approved prompts and questions can help you uncover new sources of gratitude to celebrate.
Templates to try.
- List 3 things you are grateful for from the last 24 hours.
- Name 1-3 times when someone complimented you and you were pleasantly surprised.
- Name something unexpected that made your task or day easier.
- List some acts of kindness that you witnessed (or saw in a show or movie) in the past few weeks.
- Make a list of 3 things in your living space that you use to take care of yourself.
- List 3 of your favorite outfits to wear or that you've felt comfortable in before.
- What am I grateful for that I can see with my physical eyes?
- What am I grateful for that I cannot see with my physical eyes?
- What challenges and lessons am I grateful for? (This is important because it allows you to appreciate all experiences in life, moving beyond the limiting labels of "bad" and "good.")
- Who am I grateful for?
- What qualities am I grateful for within myself?
- What didn't go my way today, and how can I learn from it?
Starting a gratitude journal is a simple way to reflect on the blessings of your life and shift your mindset toward the positive. These tips, reminders, and notebooks will make it even easier to start the practice. But remember: getting your gratitude onto the page is only step one. From there, you need to share it with the world.
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.